The Phantom Card The most important credit card you'll never have

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, girls and girls, girls and older men, older men and boys, boys and boys, welcome to the phantom guide. This is for credit card that doesn’t exist. Because it doesn’t exist, it can never be destroyed, stolen, mutilated, coveted, or prized away from you on some kind of filthy subway system, or lifted, or jacked, or thieved, or any other such malice that could cause it to no longer be in your possession. Thus it will be the most important card you ever (don’t) own. It will be immortal in that it will exist forever, or at least as long as the expiration date. Formless and beautiful.

If you read yesterday’s blog entry, you’ll remember that yesterday I found out some slimy thieves in Florida (though actually they’re probably not in Florida) tried to use my debit card, which means now my debit card is blocked, which means I have to use my backup card, from Homestreet Bank on Bainbridge Island, which is actually not a half-bad backup card at that. This is the first time I’ve traveled with two debit cards. I’ve always traveled with a debit card and a credit card. And actually I’m sort of traveling with a credit card, though not the actual physical card. I’m traveling with the phantom card.

Imagine the following happens to you: You’re walking along the street in Paris, smoking a cigarette and thinking about what charming jazz club you’ll frequent that night, when a man steps out of the shadows and hits you over the head with an oven mitt full of quarters, takes your wallet, and then runs off back into the shadows. You wake, confused, and smoke a cigarette to calm down. You have 20 euros back at the hotel you put in your backpack because you didn’t deem it necessary to be walking around with so much cash. But other than that you now have no plastic. Your debit and credit card were in that wallet. You have no back up.

Or do you (not)?

You then remember you’re a cunning weasel, almost as cunning as the brute that just kissed the side of your head with an article of clothing filled with monies, and that everything should (and quite possibly could) be OK. In fact, in today’s electronic, peer2peer economy, you might not even a difference.

You call Charles Schwab and they agree to send you a replacement card on the double (see: triple). In the meantime you figure you can do the following: Because you have all the information from your phantom card — number, expiration date, security code — squirreled away on a sheet of paper or maybe just in your brain (the actual code is in a safe location far way), you can still make Airbnb reservations and thus have a place to stay. You can also take Ubers because your phantom card information is already in the Uber app. You can even eat, because with all the food delivery services you can just order food via an app and have it delivered right to your Airbnb door, while you stand out front talking to the Uber driver. Everything is peer2peer. We’re all sharing. We’re all in this together. In the year 2050 you’ll get in your car to drive your kids to school and someone will hop in the back seat and say, “Mets Stadium, please,” and even though you’ll have no idea what he’s talking about, you’ll think, Ahhh, I must be an Uber driver now. Or something. Peer2peer everything. Individuality is dead. You will then drive to your nearest bakery, take a picture of an almond croissant to show everyone what you ate, upload it to Instagram, and throw it in the garbage.

The point is that to be a successful traveler in today’s dog sniff dog world you must have a card in your repertoire that’s not actually in your repertoire; in other words, a card whose number and expiration date and security code you have so that you can use it to buy things online and on your phone in the case of an emergency or even non-emergencies.

I recommend the Chase Freedom card, because it has no interest for the first 15 months, which means you can rack up all the debt your little heart desires — your “phantom debt” — until, one day, it becomes all too real, at which point you’ll experience phantom sadness, phantom anxiety, and possibly even phantom trouble with the law, or at least a collections agency. But why dwell on something that may never happen? Didn’t Montaigne say, “I lived many a great tragedy in my life, most of which never happened?” Yes, of course he did. In other words: out of sight, out of mind. Just like your new card.